Trust in Transition

This week I had the honor of being interviewed on a very cool radio program called “Trust Across America.” There were a number of interesting guests on the show, all discussing topics related to trust and integrity. It’s a relatively short program so take a minute and check it out.

During my short segment with Jordan Kimmel, I spoke briefly about something I call the Leadership Integrity Quotient™. This is a concept that grew from an earlier interview I did with Neal Cavuto on Fox Business News. It was while back and we were talking about Rod Blagojevich. In the process of the conversation I said that there are some people who are obviously pretty smart, but have a very small integrity quotient when it comes to leadership. That comment led to more thought about the process and an interesting finding in relation to leadership transition.

I recently did a poll asking the question, “What is the greatest challenge to transitioning to a leadership role?” With over 200 responses, it might be expected that people would worry about meeting the new expectations or establishing new direction. In fact, a fair amount of leadership training is around new leaders establishing the vision for the team, defining strategy and in general, achieving results in the “first 100 days.”

Interestingly enough, the greatest challenge identified by far was the establishment of trust with the new team. As one of the respondents, Bjorn Nilsen, put it, ” the other selections can be mitigated in the early going, but trust is something you can not make people give to you…it must be earned, and that takes time, effort, and knowing what sort of actions will gain the trust of team members.”

This question is relevant in today’s environment because many leaders find themselves in new or expanded roles. There are a lot of issues here, but since many are working in unconventional times in terms of their organization, there are lots of promotions (or evolutions) into leadership roles today. Even in the best of times, a person promoted or hired into a leadership role has to contend with the establishment of new relationships in an unequal environment. Establishing trust when put into a position of authority can be quite daunting.

Which brings us to one of the other fairly frequent responses which was “overcoming the legacy of the past.” Bob Walton, Senior Vice-President at Qualcomm, speaks from experience when he says, “I could agree with building trust, but contend that from my experience as a change agent, the legacy of the past sets the foundation for trust AND determines how difficult establishing new direction will be.” Herein lies one of the most frustrating yet frequent situations in which new leaders find themselves. It is not YOU that has damaged trust within the organization but it is now YOU who is in the position that was HELD by somebody who damaged trust. Whether it is fair or not is irrelevant. As a new leader you pick up the baggage of those who came before you. You pick up the baggage of the organization in which you work. And you pick up the baggage of your new peer-leaders and the reputation that is held within the organization for leaders in general. So, what can you do to make your transition effective and to accelerate the process of building trust?

In “The Leadership Integrity Quotient™” I argue that there are three dimensions that you should consider and which impact the ability of your team to build trust in you as a leader:

1. Behaviors Exhibited toward Others: Since your team may not know you well, or if they do know you, they don’t know how you will impact them in a leadership position, it is important to recognize the impact of behavior. If, from Day One, you are interested in their perspective, take the time to listen to them, and spend physical time with your followers, you will establish at least an optimistic environment that they can trust you. In terms of your capability as a leader, your openness to their input and ideas, and your consistency between what you say and what you do, your followers will be watching closely to determine if you are who you say you are. What they observe about you will say a lot.

2. Attitudes you Hold Toward Others: While behaviors are important, it is the attitudes you hold about other people that will make a difference in whether your followers feel you are authentic or simply trying to sell them on you as a leader. Many leaders forget this part, but the perception of your followers on whether you actually care about them and respect them, whether you are open and perhaps most importantly, whether you trust them, will determine in large part whether they check out or at least give you a chance.

3. Values held by Self: In the range of “soft stuff” that many leaders overlook in their transitional days, the issue of how your values play a role in your leadership can’t be underestimated. Remember, the greatest challenge is establishing trust with the team. Not only are they determining whether they can trust your actions in the short-term, they are deciding whether they can trust you over time. Your values, as exhibited by your honest, your accountability and your self-awareness, are the foundation to the person in which they are being asked to trust.

In environments of great change there are many simultaneous transitions for employees and followers. In most cases, they are looking for not only direction but for the confidence that comes from knowing that they can trust their leaders. If you are transitioning into a new role, it might be that the establishment of this trust will be your greatest challenge. Make it your greatest strength and take the time to not only create a new business strategy, but a new trust strategy as well.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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